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  • Writer's pictureJohn Rae-Grant


Updated: Apr 13, 2020

I’ve made lots of mistakes in the past. The one that I’m noticing the most is ignoring one of my three central principles of The Art of Work: namely “great work is easier than good work”. Reflecting on some of my recent experiences, I realize that much of the time was hard. Hard to get clients. Hard to get the product finished. Hard to hit deadlines. Most notably, hard to agree on what was most important. Though I worked with many great people, and there were many times where we were a really good team, that clear feeling that we were on track to something great…was elusive. Here is a checklist of indicators that you are on that tragic treadmill…on the hard path to something good, rather than the joyful path to something great. THE TI….MING IS OFF First, you can put all the human energy you can muster into something, and if it isn’t the right time in the market, it is going to feel hard. This is the universe’s way of telling you to do something else, or at least to try a different approach. I know this, but many times at Zazengo, I just knuckled down and worked harder. If there isn’t clear competition, if you aren’t seeing signs that this thing is going to happen whether you do it or not, and, especially, if smart, hooked-in people don’t “get” what you are doing in less than a minute, then the timing is not right. Stop, wait, or change. SURVIVING ON TALENT AND DETERMINATION My friend Manny Vellon said to me the other day that talent is a problem in a start-up. “If things aren’t working, normal people give up and go do something safer, or they screw it up so badly they have to quit. Talented individuals, on the other hand, will find a way to push through and keep it going - even when the market wants it to die. It won’t thrive, but it won’t die. Talent gets in the way.” I suppose I should feel complimented. If “it” isn’t working, then “I” am failing - aren’t I? Maybe working harder is the answer. Get that treadmill spinning. GETTING PRECIOUS MY ideas are always great - to me - at least at first. If I get precious, and defensive, I discard critical feedback, and even flip the bozo bit on folks who are trying to help me by giving an honest appraisal of what I’m doing. The strange thing is that, the “greater” the idea is, the less I feel I have to defend it. Like a child that has grown up, a great idea can stand on its own, and I don’t have to protect it. If I’m being defensive, maybe “it” isn’t right yet. So, defensiveness means I should … listen and learn. BEING BUSY If you are too busy to think, then there is no time to realize what is screwed up, and jettison or radically alter it. The “do” loop gets a higher scheduling priority than the “what if” loop, especially for driven people. There are major corporations out there that have thousands of people working on mediocrity, who are all too busy to realize that they could spend one tenth the resource for one fitfth the time, and end up with products that are worth twice as much. The culture of “getting it done” is a problem, when “it” is the wrong “it”. FOCUSING ON SUNK COST No one wants to see his/her work get scrapped. Once you’ve put a lot of work into something, you get attached. The longer you’ve been doing that, the worse it gets. You’re addicted, enmeshed, in an abusive relationship with a product or company that just isn’t loving you back. Let it go. PLEASING THE CLIENT We had a motto of doing whatever it took to please the client. Since we were too early in the market, we didn’t really know what our product was, and the definition of “good” became “meets client requirements”. That doesn’t get you to a product business. I’m very into pleasing clients and partners, but that needs to be a relationship metric, not the definition of your product, and certainly not of your business. ARGUING OVER WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT If your team is having trouble prioritizing, you’re not getting it. Chances are that you’re considering a long list of “good” features. Great products have shorter feature lists. Great products tell you what not to do. For example, consider the iPhone 1.0 - no gps, no cut and paste. Lots of pundits griped. Apple changed the world. Apple refused to play the game of “one better, in all directions”. Instead they focused on what really changes the game - the App Store, the transition effects, the usability, the workflow. A great product has a spirit and the spirit tells you what to do. Good products and ideas get you mired in confusion about what to do first. If you can’t prioritize, you haven’t discovered anything truly important yet. NOT PLEASING YOURSELVES You have to be passionate about what your product does. If you don’t feel that it is great, it isn’t. You can kid yourself that you aren’t the customer, and there are certainly things that you might think are “cool” that the customer won’t get or care about, but, once you’ve really internalized the customer’s life, you have to create a product that you “feel” is awesome. One that will delight. Maybe it is ok to do something “good” when you are the market leader (not for too long though), but if you are anyone else, you have to shoot for a game change. CONCLUSION The treadmill is seductive. It feels important. It feeds us just enough to keep us running, but it never gets us where we really want to go.


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